The European Year 2012 for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations (EY2012) aimed to raise awareness of the contribution that older people make to society, to facilitate their empowerment, and promote independent living. It also sought to encourage social dialogue on policy and research issues on active ageing and solidarity between generations. ESN Member representatives Franco Moretto from the Veneto Region, Italy, and Chris Kuypers from the Dutch Association of Local Governments for Social Welfare, together with Lisa Schönenberg from the ESN secretariat, attended the closing conference of the EY2012, which took place on the 10 December in Nicosia, Cyprus.

The objective of the conference was to review the year’s achievements and practice examples for the promotion of employment, independent living and social participation of older people. The final aim was to discuss with EU, national and local actors the necessary political measures to follow up the year’s achievements.

At the start of the conference, Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner László Andor emphasised the range of initiatives, events and involvement of stakeholders, noting: “The European Year has changed the way people talk about ageing and it has popularised the concept of active ageing in many countries.” He also stressed the importance of the Council declaration on the 2012 European Year by the EU Social Affairs Ministers, which gives further guidelines for national authorities and other stakeholders to promote active ageing.

The Commissioner emphasised that improving the employability of older people is essential to the Europe 2020 employment rate target and balancing budgets. According to a recent study by Eurofound, active ageing at the work place can only be accomplished through age-friendly approaches to working conditions, including life long learning opportunities and intergenerational cooperation. Professor Gunhild Hagestad from Norwegian Social Research stressed the importance of an intergenerational approach which builds solidarity between generations, saying: “We should create a society for all ages and not form new institutions that create differences between the generations!” The active ageing index, presented and developed by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research in Vienna, allows stakeholders to compare different aspects of national ageing policy and to discover potential areas to improve.

Furthermore, different national initiatives promoting the employment of older people, independent living and social participation were presented by national and local authorities, NGOs and businesses. Franco Moretto from the Veneto region presented the project ‘A Civil Service for Older People’, which involves people over sixty with low incomes in intergenerational and home care volunteering projects: “In that way, we can improve their quality of life and avoid social exclusion.” Commissioner Andor highlighted the importance of scaling up good practices and bringing them to the attention of policy makers and stakeholders across Europe, so that they might improve their policies and systems. The European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing is one example of this. Furthermore, the Commission plans to offer financial support for the development of comprehensive active ageing strategies through a call for proposals.

The speakers in the last session of the conference, national and local policy makers and other delegates called for a wide ranging mobilisation towards active ageing of stakeholders at all political levels. Looking forward, Kathleen Lynch TD, Minister for Disability, Equality, Mental Health and Older People in Ireland, said that a national positive ageing strategy will be launched during the Irish EU presidency. She called for a change of approach towards older people: “The attitude is much more important than the delivery – the right things must be implemented.”